From fear and trembling to refuge (Psalm 2)

I have always had a particular attraction to Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” partly because it creates a crisis for evangelicals with a formulaic “decision for Christ” account of salvation. I do believe that justification by faith is a core part of our salvation, but I also think that δικάιοω (justify) means “make just” more than “declare just” in a way that the English language screws up with the word “justification.” Though we need to have Christ’s justification declared to us to wrest us free from self-justification, it is a means to the end of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification by which we are made just. And God doesn’t need to have the results of an act that He authored “declared” back to Him through some contrived performance of feigned ignorance. You can call the trust that God instills in us a “decision” if you need to, but it’s a decision that must be remade over and over again, and furthermore it’s a surrender, not the product of dispassionate rational deliberation (sorry Bill Bright!). In any case, I was reading Psalm 2 in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament this past Monday. It may have been what Paul had in his head in writing Philippians 2:12 because it talks about “fear” and “trembling” and how they relate to the refuge that God offers to humanity. Continue reading

Theology of capitalism: entrepreneurs vs. money-changers

There are two different stories people tell about capitalism. Those who describe capitalism favorably say that it is the story of how the innovation and creativity of entrepreneurs are unleashed through a spontaneity of resources provided in a free market. Capitalism’s critics tell the story of how money-changers are constantly hunting for ways to make money without sweating a drop by leveraging workers and markets against each other and finding loopholes to be exploited. Both of these stories are true, though not always equally. At this particular juncture in our nation’s history, the money-changers are winning the day by masquerading as entrepreneurs. If it’s true that corporate profits are at record highs while unemployment remains high, then the money-changers have found a way to create wealth for themselves without creating jobs. I am not qualified to explain how this works, since I’m a pastor, not an economist, but Jesus had plenty to say about entrepreneurs and money-changers that is relevant to thinking through a Christian response to the competing economic visions that are being set before us this election year. Continue reading

The conflation of two fears

Several Mondays ago, when I went to the basilica in Washington, DC, and sat in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, I read Psalm 19:9 which says, “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.” You cannot understand this verse unless you understand that there are two kinds of fear that are the opposite of one another even though both kinds use the word yore in Hebrew and phobos in Greek.What we are used to understanding as “fear” when it relates to God is the kind of fear that 1 John 4:18 describes: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” One of American Christianity’s basic problems is a widespread conflation of these two fears: the fear that is awed reverence and the fear that is cowardly fright. Continue reading

The fear of the Lord & the comfort of the Spirit (Acts 9:31)

In the Daily Office scripture reading for Monday, a verse that caught my eye was Acts 9:31 — “Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” Of course, being a pastor in a declining mainline denomination, any reference to an “increase in numbers” is going to get my attention. But there’s also something beautiful and perfect about the balance between living in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit that doesn’t have anything to do with church growth. We are in the process of contemplating a spiritual formation program at our church. I wonder if the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit can be described as the perfect intimacy with God that is the goal of spiritual formation. Continue reading